Articular Cartilage Damage & Microfracture Surgery

Articular cartilage damage is a common knee problem that can occur from playing high-impact sports or through gradual wear and tear that causes unstable cartilage. Patients can develop a chondral cartilage defect, which means the entire original articular cartilage layer protecting the bone underneath is broken off, chipped off, or lost, exposing the hard bone underneath. Patients with articular cartilage injuries may experience pain, stiffness, swelling, and uncomfortable movement. Other symptoms include:

  • A clicking or grinding sensation
  • The knee joint occasionally locking, catching, or giving way
  • Pain with prolonged walking or climbing upstairs
  • The knee may make noise typically described as a “snap, crackle, or pop”

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Articular Cartilage Injury Treatment

Minor cartilage damage can often improve without knee surgery, but more severe cartilage damage may require treatment. Microfracture surgery is a common articular cartilage repair technique used to treat damaged articular cartilage of the knee. The surgical procedure can be performed arthroscopically by first removing the damaged or loose cartilage and then creating tiny microfracture holes in the surface of the joint to stimulate the body’s natural healing response. The microfracture technique is frequently used in athletes and patients with a small area of damaged cartilage in an attempt to stimulate new cartilage growth and help with cartilage restoration.

Who is a Good Candidate for Microfracture Surgery?

There is a selection of factors that can determine whether or not you are a good candidate for microfracture surgery. You may be able to benefit from this procedure if you have limited areas of cartilage damage, have pain or swelling due to damaged cartilage, and are physically active but cannot participate in sports because of your knee discomfort. If your injury is larger or more complex, you will need to undergo a different knee surgery such as knee replacement surgery.

Those with widespread arthritis or inflammatory arthritis, or who are inactive and are unwilling to participate in rehabilitation may not find pain relief from microfracture knee surgery. To learn more about candidacy, please contact our office today to schedule a consultation appointment.


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Microfracture Surgery Recovery

Microfracture surgery is an outpatient minimally invasive procedure, and patients can return home the same day. After the procedure, the knee may be temporarily placed in a knee brace for stability, and some patients might be required to use crutches for a few weeks. Some discomfort, pain, and limited mobility should be expected several weeks after surgery. Recovery often depends on the injury and the patient’s overall health. It’s generally a good idea to engage in continuous passive motion, as approved by your doctor, to help strengthen the knee joint as the underlying bone heals.

Frequently Asked Questions about Knee Microfracture

What is microfracture of the knee?

Microfracture of the knee is an arthroscopic surgical procedure of the knee intended to help treat injuries to the cartilage of the knee or other joints, usually for a full-thickness chondral defect, which is when the cartilage is damaged all the way down to the bone. The microfracture technique refers to drilling small holes into the bone to help stimulate the growth of new cartilage in an area where the cartilage has been lost due to a traumatic injury or other disease. This procedure has been done for about 25 years and is an outpatient procedure. In some cases, the patients are allowed to walk immediately after the procedure, but in other cases, the patient will require crutches. Physical rehab is typically done after the procedure.

How long does knee microfracture take to heal?

A knee microfracture takes three months to heal.

Does microfracture cure cartilage defects?

The new tissue that is formed over the cartilage defect is known as fibrocartilage, which is a different type of protective tissue that functions similarly to your original articular cartilage.

Can the microfracture be used in other parts of the body?

Yes, it can be used in other joints in the body, such as the elbow and shoulder, however, results may vary and there is less long-term research when used in other places.

Who is an ideal candidate for microfracture surgery?

A younger patient with a focal or small cartilage defect, ideally 2 centimeters or less, especially in a weight-bearing area of the knee.

Who is not a good candidate?

Microfracture is generally not successful or indicated for patients who have more generalized arthritis throughout the knee or more damage to the majority of the cartilage in the knee joint.

How does microfracture surgery work?

The doctor drills small holes into the exposed area of bone, which promotes a small amount of bleeding. The resulting bleeding forms a clot of blood over this area of defect, which then matures into tissue that becomes fiber cartilage. Note: this clotted blood is very different from the blood clot people often get concerned about causing other issues.

Contact Us Today

If you or a loved one have experienced a knee microfracture injury and are considering microfracture surgery, schedule a consultation with Dr. Goldberg today! As a board-certified, fellowship-trained specialist in Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine, Dr. Goldberg is highly skilled in performing an array of orthopedic surgeries, including microfracture surgery.